Church bells, I’m sitting here back on my little couch perch feeling the jet lag finally settle in and I hear the church bells ringing from the Catholic Church down the street. I’ve lived in this spot for close to thirteen years and cannot remember even once hearing them before. I just got back from a place where the bells rung often, being there experiencing, seeing, tasting….feeling things for the first time….aware of each tiny nuance and now here I sit, in a place I know so well that I can damn near navigate it with my eyes closed, with the bells of my own place awaking me to what I’ve been missing….well by navigating through my daily life with my eyes closed.
These trips are always like this for me, always this kind of awakening of sorts, a breathing of new life into a soul that yearns to experience new things but sadly too often lets that get tucked aside or buried beneath the stacks of return emails, magazines to read, blogging…planning and making dinner. All the little tasks that make up my daily life, the one I shamefully, all too often navigate with my eyes closed. Even when it comes to picking wine for the night, I have this remarkable world of wine at my fingertips, wines from Piedmont, Marlborough, Dry Creek, Savigny-les-Beaune, Alsace, Muscadet and yet more often than not I wrap my fingers around the neck of a bottle of Francois Chidaine Touraine as I am running out the door. Sure it’s a fantastic wine, be willing to go so far as call it an astounding value, familiar, delicious, food friendly….but, I missed those bells. Eyes closed.
I like to fancy myself a fairly wine savvy chick, been lucky enough to have some of the most sought after wines in the world fall upon my palate, kicked up dust in the cellars of wineries whose wines many people never even see a bottle of. Not sure how it all happened but happen it did and when I think back upon those moments I feel lit up, tingly and profoundly lucky but let’s be real, not about to pop Lafon Montrachet for a tingle. The thing I can do is recall those moments at will; picture the winemaker, the cellar walls, the kind of glasses we drank from, the way the wine rolled across my palate. Those memories are part of me and my wine education and I have them with me always, with me on my drive to and from work, in my heart when I blog, part of my sensory system when I taste anything but, well there is only so far a memory can take you and the one place beyond its reach, is forward.
When Jeremy Parzen first asked if I would be willing to join he and a handful of other American wine bloggers on a trip to Friuli the first thing that raced through my mind was, “Me?! I don’t know anything about Italian wines beyond Pinot Grigio and Langhe Nebbiolo.” The next thing to come was, “Of course I want to go, I don’t know anything about Italian wines beyond Pinot Grigio and Langhe Nebbiolio” and knowing that The Wine Country could spare me this time of year I shot back the, “I’d love to!’ email. I instantly began walking the Italian section at the shop, eyeing the bottles, trying to pronounce the winery names and testing myself on regions and what grapes grow there….just as I thought, I knew almost nothing. Sure I knew a bit about Tuscany but truth be told, don’t care much for most of the wines from there. Piedmont I could wrap my head around a bit better, Nebbiolio being an aromatic variety much like my beloved Pinot Noir and Dolcetto often being grapey and a tad softer in tannin like Beaujolais on steroids but, for the most part Italy and Italian wines were a complete mystery to me.
The first few hours of my Friuli immersion course were spent speaking English, sipping Prosecco and trying to shake that, “What the fuck am I doing here?” feeling. Just trying to gear up and take in as much as my tiny melon could process. Once we were released to check into our rooms and take a look at our itinerary I found myself awash in utter panic and desperate excitement, on the sheet detailing what we were to taste and the estates we were going to visit there was maybe three things I had heard of before. Friulano, heard of that but never without Tocai in front of it, (and as I would learn the Italians too had to remove the word Tocai, just as the French had to with Tokay for their Pinot Gris. The Hungarians had a hissy and won and now Tokay is a protected name and only they can use it) Pinot Grigio of course and Sauvignon but what the hell are Pignolo, Picolit and Schioppettino?! Wasn’t sure I could even say them let alone taste them. No frame of reference, no memories to look back on, just me in this strange place for the first time tasting things that I had never even heard of….are those bells ringing?
So you know when you step foot in a new restaurant or even fondle the menu of the one that makes like your favorite pot pie or whatever and you are thinking of trying something different? The way you hover a bit, that little pang of “what if I don’t like it?” the fear of the unknown keeping your feet just above the pond, afraid to plunge….yeah well I told that fear to blow me and jumped in with both feet. Splashed around in the sound of a language that made no sense to me, felt my teeth tug at the flesh of San Daniele prosciutto, (giving Parma a run for its money) got my Frico on, (this I will explain in my next post) found that I have a slightly dangerous love for Grappa and discovered that Schioppettino, a grape literally saved from extinction by the people of Friuli, can be as diverse and sexy as my much adored Cabernet Franc.
I came home exhausted, thrilled, spun, craving, full of adoration and passion and now….I hear those bells ringing and can feel mine vibrating as well....